Some talk of Alexander's tomb starts to ring hollow

Robert Fisk finds Cairo in a sceptical mood over certain tomb stones as the city warms to the theme: beware of modern Greeks bearing antiquities

Alexander began to lose a little of his Greatness in the Marriott Hotel lobby. The tomb, we were informed amid a swirl of distinctly post-Macedonian tourists, might not be the tomb after all. Stone fragments shown to archaeologists flown in from Greece were from the Roman Imperial period - 300 years after Ptolemy I supposedly laid his predecessor to rest in Egypt. Most disappointing of all, the Greeks had failed to identify any eight-pointed Macedonian stars among remains at Siwa oasis. At that, even the tourists began to drift away from the press conference.

Should we have been surprised? Even when Liana Souvaltzi addressed the press on Saturday - Greeks only, for she had no time to talk to Egyptian reporters - there was an air of palpable unease among the Greek diplomats in the Marriott. With eyes glinting,she told the Greek nation: "I have no reservation about whether this is Alexander's tomb," she announced. "But I am speaking to every Greek all over the world. I want every one of you to feel proud, because Greek hands have found this very important monument."

The core of Ms Souvaltzi's political message was swift in arriving. "This is a very difficult time for Greece - therefore I believe that the discovery of the tomb of Alexander the Great will contribute to our good image abroad. We must be proud to be Greeks." At which point, a Greek embassy first secretary shuffled uneasily.

What did this mean? Were FYROM archaeologists - diggers from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - on the trail of Alexander's corpse? Had Ms Souvaltzi beaten them to it? Or was she just pleased that she, and not the Egyptians, possessed the hands which had found the monument? The Cairo press had been a little sceptical about her work, ever since Ms Souvaltzi disclosed that only the appearance of two serpents passing between her feet at the excavation site had persuaded Egyptian workers to help her. The serpents were a sign, she told nonplussed journalists in Siwa last month.

Sitting next to Ms Souvaltzi was her husband, who had translated the stone fragments which she had uncovered at Siwa; there were special thanks to him for his help. It seemed as if history were repeating itself. More than a century ago, Schliemann claimed he had gazed upon the face of Agamemnon and then dressed his wife up in the treasures of Troy. Now Ms Souvaltzi claimed her hands had discovered the tomb of Alexander and gave her husband credit for its identity. According to his translation of one fragment, Ptolemy himself, no less, stated that he carried the corpse of the god-king and master of the known world to Siwa, adding that "it was I who was caring about his secrets, and who was carrying out his wishes".

But the real wishes of Alexander looked ever more secretive at the weekend. Even before they set off to Siwa to survey Ms Souvaltzi's finds, the Greek expedition, led by the Director of Antiquities in Athens, Yannis Tzedakis, noted unhappily that the discoverer would not be travelling with them; she would be too busy talking to antiquities-department officials in Cairo. Ms Souvaltzi, he said, had worked on the Egyptian collection at the Athens Museum and had published a paper on the tomb of Alexander in Cairo three years ago. She says she is funded by her husband and had told Dr Tzedakis that she had found two tablets and part of a third.

On Sunday night Dr Tzedakis and his men returned from Siwa with a brief handwritten statement that made it clear the fragments of stone were Roman rather than Hellenistic and that the Greeks had not seen the eight-pointed Macedonian star which they had hoped to observe. Nor did the fragments make any reference to "poison" - the supposed manner of Alexander's death in 323BC - as press reports had earlier suggested. Although their visit had not been long enough to exhaust the theories about Alexander, Dr Tzedakis said, "the fragments are not Hellenistic. They have nothing to do with the period of Ptolemy I. The inscriptions are very well dated to be post-Augustine, after AD30. There is no Macedonian style to the complex."

The Greek Culture Minister, Thanos Mikroutsikos, confirmed yesterday that fragments presented to an official Greek delegation in Egypt "in no way" proved that the tomb was that of Alexander.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Life and Style
tech
News
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
news
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
Extras
indybest
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate Web Developer

£18000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Excellent opportun...

Graduate Database Developer (SQL)

£18000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Excellent opportun...

Community / Stakeholder Manager - Solar PV

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Senior Marketing Executive (B2B/B2C) - London

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor